JUlie, who is 38 and lives in North Carolina, considers herself, her husband and their two children to be “zero COVID people”. Motivated by studies into the potential long-term effects of COVID-19 on the body, they direct their lives to avoid catching the virus. That means avoiding indoor spaces where people aren’t masked, often wearing masks outside, and seeking out service providers who still take precautions, such as face masks. B. Masking and using air purifiers. For the most part, Julie says, that’s fine. “There’s not a lot we don’t make,” she says — they just make everything with quality masks. (Like others interviewed for this story, Julie asked to be identified by her first name only to protect her family’s privacy.)
However, the holidays bring some challenges. Julie’s relatives are no longer willing to take the security measures that would allow her family to meet with them in person, she says, so her family will celebrate by making “better food” than usual and eating it at home. The hardest part, she says, is watching family members, who used to be willing to isolate themselves for 14 days from visits, now forgo precautions, knowing Julie and her family won’t be comfortable attending the celebrations to participate.
“We don’t skip; we are excluded,” says Julie. If her relatives were willing to wear good masks indoors and eat outside, she would “mostly” feel comfortable getting together. But that willingness – so strong in 2020 – has since faded.
Other COVID-cautious people are likely to face similar disagreements with loved ones. According to Harris Survey data collected for TIME, holiday celebrations are moving back towards their pre-pandemic norms. This year, 72% of US adults plan to celebrate the holiday with at least one person outside of their household — less than 81% before the pandemic, but more than 66% over the past year. About 45% plan to travel during this year’s holiday season, compared with 58% before the pandemic and 42% last year.
But even as much of the country bids farewell to pandemic-era politics, many families still plan to spend the holidays outdoors around zoom screens and heat lamps, doing their best for “a side dish and a gift with the holiday meal.” take away not a virus,” as Claire, 39, puts it. According to TIME-Harris Poll data, about 55% of US adults said COVID-19 will affect their vacation plans. Even among those who will gather in person with others, about a third plan to limit the size of their celebrations, while 12% said they would need masks or hold the event outdoors.
Claire and her husband, who live down south, will do all of that. They were alert to the spread of disease even before the pandemic as they have a 4-year-old child who was born prematurely and could develop serious complications from respiratory diseases. This holiday season, they’ll be packing up and wearing masks to celebrate on the patio at Claire’s in-laws’ house. For Thanksgiving dinner, they eat on opposite corners of the patio before donning their masks again. When it’s too cold to open presents outside at Christmas, they exchange presents and then go back to their respective houses to unwrap them.
That’s how they’ve been doing it since 2020, Claire says, but she acknowledges the system requires sacrifices. She doesn’t feel comfortable attending her grandmother’s big Thanksgiving dinner with multiple families, and she mostly sees her friends and her kids via Zoom these days. But for Claire, the downsides pale in comparison to keeping her family healthy in the face of a virus that can potentially lead to lifelong disability for a subset of people who contract it. “I’m in a situation where I can protect my child and us, and I’m going to do whatever I can,” she says.
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Other families with risk factors are also making great efforts to avoid the virus. Karen, who is 39 and lives in Tennessee, has had post-viral complications like chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia for 22 years, since contracting mono as a teenager and never fully recovering. A cold can put her in bed for six weeks. COVID-19, her doctor warned her in 2020, could be disastrous for her health.
With the virus still spreading widely, Karen, her husband, and toddler remain almost completely confined, venturing out mostly for doctor’s appointments and distanced outdoor activities like bike rides, picnics, and hikes. When friends come over, her family visits her through a window. That means big holiday gatherings are off the table for the foreseeable future.
“It was always very important to me to have an open house during the holidays for everyone who doesn’t have a home,” says Karen. But these days, her doors remain closed to everyone except her husband’s parents, who live locally and lead a similarly closed lifestyle.
Max, who is 26 and lives in New York City, is following his parents’ lead when it comes to the virus. His parents wear masks everywhere and avoid riskier environments like restaurants and movie theaters as COVID-19 can be severe for people in their age group. Max chose to spend Thanksgiving with his girlfriend’s family rather than his own to avoid worrying his parents about possibly getting sick.
He can go home for the winter break, he says, as he will have more time for quarantine and testing before then. Max says he’d feel good about dropping those precautions if his parents stopped asking for them, but for now he’s happy to do whatever makes them comfortable. “I understand the principle that the more vulnerable people make the rules,” he says.
Not everyone is so understanding. Kara Darling, who is 46 and lives in Delaware, is in the process of divorcing her husband because he was willing to “integrate” back into society around the time the vaccines were introduced and she has chosen to stay very COVID-cautious by working remotely. she homeschools her children and associates only with those willing to take strict precautions. Darling’s attitude is illustrated both by her work as a practice and research manager at a clinic that treats people with complex medical conditions, which has exposed her to the reality of living with Long COVID, and by the fact that three of her children have overactive immune systems , influenced .
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“You mourn your plans and the reality you thought you would have and what you thought life would be like,” she says. “When you come to acceptance, the question becomes, ‘Am I going to sit around bemoaning the existence of a life I desire, or am I going to change my mind?'”
Darling has decided to spin. She runs several Facebook groups for people who “still have COVID” — that is, still taking precautions to avoid catching the virus. She’s also established a recurring outdoor gathering for homeschooled kids in her area, building a community ready to start new holiday traditions for the pandemic era. Families in their “still COVIDing” circles are sending out cards ahead of Valentine’s Day and treats for Halloween. They trade homemade dishes on Thanksgiving and eat them together via Zoom. They leave presents on the porch for birthdays and honk their horns as they drive by to say hello.
Darling’s Thanksgiving will be small this year – just her household, her eldest son and her son’s friend cooking and eating together at home. (Darling’s son and girlfriend don’t live with her, so they avoid unnecessary public activities, wear respirators, and test multiple times in the 10 days before joining us.) But outside the walls of her home, Darling has built connections that help her get through the dark moments.
“It’s about being part of a community,” she says. “We have built a trusted family.”
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